There's a hint of the pyramid scheme in Solavei's business plan, which encourages subscribers to "sponsor" friends and family members, and chops $5 off your monthly bill for each person you sign up. Wrangle enough people and you could actually end up making money.
Even without these incentivized referrals, Solavei offers competitive rates, including a $39 plan with a 500MB high-speed data allowance. You're encouraged to bring your own unlocked GSM handset, but the company also sells phones (including iPhones and the Google Nexus 5) via a third-party reseller. And speaking of reselling, Solavei would cost you absolutely nothing if you refer just eight paying customers. That's something any bargain-hunter would have to think seriously about.
Piggybacks on: Multiple
Starts at: $30/month for 1,000 voice minutes/1,000 texts/30MB data
In business since: 2009
Like Net10, another TracFone-owned enterprise, Straight Talk sells both phones and BYOD service. Also like Net10, Straight Talk supports both CDMA and GSM handsets, leveraging AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon networks to supply coverage for different models and different areas of the country.
So, what sets the two apart? Not much, except for plans: Straight Talk offers a bit more bang for the buck with its $45 rate, which includes unlimited everything (with data throttling once you hit 2.5GB). But iPhone users should check the fine print, as picture messaging can be tricky to configure and visual voicemail is flat-out not supported.
Piggybacks on: Sprint
Starts at: $9/month for 0 voice minutes/0 texts/100 MB data
In business since: 2012
For owners of post-contract Sprint phones, Ting is perhaps the single most attractive option available. The service lets you choose from five different tiers each for minutes, messages and data. Thus, if you send a lot of texts but make few phone calls and use Wi-Fi at home and work, you might choose the Large plan for messaging but Small for minutes and Medium for data. An online calculator shows you exactly what you'll pay per month as you juggle your choices.
Only Ting offers this kind of rate-plan customization, and it's among a select few smaller carriers to support both tethering and mobile hotspots. A SIM card will run you $10, though you can also buy unlocked phones like the HTC One and Moto X. But in another example of how Ting seems earnest about saving you money, its Nexus 5 product page reads: "You're welcome to buy it from us for a full $95 more than the Google Play store sells it... But that's crazy talk!"
Piggybacks on: T-Mobile
Starts at: $19/month for 1,000 voice minutes/unlimited texts/100MB data
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.